I first heard about Kristy Boyce’s Hot British Boyfriend when one of the social media pages for Harlaxton College, where I studied abroad, posted a photo of the cover art.
The cover features a teacup with the outline of a British manor house on it… the British manor house where, approximately one lifetime ago, I lived for four months.
Naturally, I added the book to my TBR faster than you can say “hot British boyfriend.” Relive my study abroad experience through the pages of a book? Yes, please.
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Sometimes, you read a book that is a bit too familiar. In encountering Ellie, an awkward nerdy high school student far more interested in boys and all things British than in planning for her future, I saw someone I haven’t seen in a while.
I saw myself — little, teenage me, with her daydreams about spending the four months abroad finding her very own hot British boyfriend.
Unlike Ellie, though, I did not encounter said hot British boy on my first trip to town. Or ever.
Ellie initially decides to spend a semester abroad after a humiliating viral video showing her public rejection by a guy she assumed was asking her out. Except that he was actually talking to her friend, who happened to be sitting behind her.
Rather than live through the next semester with her peers, she takes her friend’s recently vacated spot on the study abroad trip. That way, she can distract herself with fantasies of finding a hot British boyfriend to erase the rejection and show Instagram that she isn’t pining.
This college-in-high school study abroad experience is usually reserved for honors students, but she and her mom pull together the tuition and convince the school to make an exception. Naturally, Ellie doesn’t really think about the fact that these college-level courses will be a challenge, and is more excited about the travel potential.
For all that I was a dedicated student throughout my high school and college years, I can relate to Ellie’s fantasies about the study abroad experience. My college self wasn’t exactly heading to England as a resume builder or for more challenging courses, like Ellie’s motivated peers.
But I did not slack off my studies for a boy, as Ellie does. Is that largely because of a lack of opportunity? We will never know.
Anyway, on her first trip to the nearby town, Ellie meets Willoughby, a wealthy British guy who takes it upon himself to become her local tour guide. From there, she gets herself enmeshed in a series of tiny white lies because she’s afraid that rich, cool Will won’t like the real her. To him, she is Ellie, American college student with an interest in rugby.
To her friends, she’s Ellie, a high school girl who loves fairy gardens and unicorns and teasing her new friend Dev about secretly playing Quidditch on the weekends.
This is the central tension of Hot British Boyfriend, as Ellie tries to transform herself into someone cool and different so that Will will continue to shower her with gifts and compliments. She asks Dev to tutor her in rugby and makes sure not to mention her real-life hobbies in front of Will, opting to feign interest in his, instead.
Meanwhile, she is perfectly herself around her newfound Honors friends, and one of these friends, in particular, seems to like that version of Ellie/Elle.
I struggled so much with this aspect of the book. Not because it’s unrealistic to what a lot of teenage girls (ahem, me) are like, but rather because it was terribly painful to watch Ellie make the same kinds of mistakes I made at that age.
Rather than realize she should spend her time with the people she’s comfortable around, Ellie keeps trying to force herself to fit the relationship she’s imagined.
Also, Will just kind of… sucks? He’s whiny and self-centered, super judgmental any time Ellie half-reveals a truth about herself. It’s clear to see why she quickly becomes convinced she has to hide her true self to retain his affections.
As her friend Sage puts it at one point, Ellie is “intentionally naïve” about her relationship with Will… and with Dev.
In spite of this discomfort, I enjoyed reliving my four months abroad through Ellie’s eyes, remembering how it felt to live in a manor house and take weekend trips to places like London and Venice.
The descriptions of traveling abroad for the first time are spot-on, and the details are vivid enough to take me back to my own experiences in those countries and in the manor itself.
Reliving my boy-obsessed, trying-to-be-someone-else years, though? That was… not so much fun.
In all, Hot British Boyfriend was a cute, lighthearted read with a nice core message of embracing your true self and finding the people who let you be that version of yourself. It also has a nicely diverse cast, with LGBTQ+ and racially diverse characters who are well-developed and nuanced.
I probably would’ve enjoyed the book more if it didn’t remind me so painfully of myself, making me want to shake Ellie and impart the wisdom I’ve acquired through hard-earned years of being too interested in whether I could keep someone liking me to consider whether or not I actually like them.
If you’re a big fan of Great British Bake Off and/or BBC adaptations of Jane Austen novels, or you like reading about people traveling abroad, and don’t mind watching someone learn lessons the hard — and infuriatingly slow — way, I recommend this book.
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